COVID-19 Aftermath – Shows Most Likely (and Least Likely) To Return


Taking a hard and painful look at the Vegas entertainment landscape as Sin City’s quarantine drags on…

As a devoted enthusiast of Sin City entertainment, it pains me to think of the hundreds of gifted performers currently out of work during the pandemic shutdown. Devoted to a volatile industry in which success is never guaranteed, many artists work multiple jobs and/or share living expenses just to get by. Combine this with a lack of adequate health care and spotty unemployment compensation, and it wouldn’t be surprising if many struggling entertainers decide to leave the industry…or the city.

Sadly, there’s a likelihood that numerous residencies and production shows will decide to fold (or have their lifeline unceremoniously yanked) once the ramp-up begins. How this plays out is anyone’s guess, but I’ve been doing my own pondering on what changes lie ahead. Keep in mind that my conclusions aren’t in any way a reflection of quality…or lack thereof. Instead, I’ve considered factors such as pre-virus buzz, operation overhead (costs), post-virus marketability, name recognition, longevity, and brand loyalty.

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I might be completely wrong on these predictions or right on the money. Your guess is as good as mine. We won’t know until it actually happens, but here’s my list of shows that might weather the storm. And those that I believe will most certainly blow away.

Very Likely To Return –

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David Saxe Productions – the long and colorful list produced by David Saxe amounts to a well-oiled machine. His self-named theater inside Planet Hollywood’s Miracle Mile Shops and nearby V Theater churn out hits like Vegas! The Show, Zombie Burlesque, V – The Ultimate Variety Show and many more. Saxe is a master of efficiency and knows how to run and market his business. His children will survive just fine.

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ABSINTHESpiegelworld‘s naughty alternative to Cirque du Soleil is an instant hit that would have celebrated its ninth anniversary on April 1st. The bawdy burlesque ABSINTHE has spun off two successful companion productions and shows no sign of slowing down. Relatively low overhead (an outdoor tent, pre-recorded music, and simple props) should help it to last through a sluggish restart (if that’s how things play out, that is).

Other Spiegelworld titles OPIUM and ATOMIC SALOON SHOW might not have it so easy. Their out-of-the-way locations inside expensive Cosmopolitan and Venetian/Palazzo might prove to be a bigger challenge in the long run. Cosmo‘s costly parking fees make OPIUM an easy pass for locals, too.

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“O” at Bellagio – Despite a mountain of debt that Cirque du Soleil is carrying, it’s unlikely that they’ll allow their highest-profile Vegas production to fold. Since “O” is synonymous with the Bellagio image (just like its outdoor fountains and seasonal conservatory displays) it’s easy to envision the resort taking ownership of the show if it came down to that (Steve Wynn did that with Le Reve). “O” is still a very popular draw despite two decades and thousands of performances. Not my cup of tea, but for many tourists, it’s a must-see.

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CELESTIA – my insiders at CELESTIA assure me that the fledgling big-top production is on solid ground. STRAT Hotel Casino has a strong financial stake. which seems to be a common thread in the current make-or-break environment. Four-wallers (independent contractors) will suffer while casino-owned shows are likely to last. It all comes down to money.

Sex Tips For Straight Women from a Gay Man – This is an easy one to envision continuing. An extremely Vegas-y premise, an attractive local cast and very low overhead within an intimate theater setting. What’s not to love?

Solo and Lounge Acts – Our deeply-fractured economy is going to have a ripple effect on both consumers and the products they offer. Returning guests with limited discretionary income will most likely avoid the high-ticket attractions. That’s where one-man/woman shows come to the rescue.

With low overhead and a simple format, solo acts can offer solid entertainment and a retro vibe while passing the savings onto their audiences. Look for returning favorites like Mike Hammer, Murray Sawchuck, Carrot Top, Xavier Mortimer, Jen Kramer and maybe even the once-popular Gordie Brown to shine brighter in the spotlight. I anticipate that bloated, self-serving star vehicles like Criss Angel – Mindfreak Live and Mariah Carey‘s endless residencies will go down in flames, though. Darn.

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Expensive mega-residencies could also feel the same heat. Last year people were forking over a grand or more to StubHub for Lady Gaga tickets. Who has that kind of money now? Even though Paula Abdul‘s lip-syncing stomp-fest at the Flamingo couldn’t warrant a $49 price tag last fall, her short-lived residency now seems like a million years ago. Look for a glut of similar shows (like Derek Hough: No Limit), along with the resurgence of intimate lounge acts, to tide us over until the economy…and Vegas…rebounds.

Say Farewell –

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Blue Man Group – They’re old, tired, and as cliched as the fanny pack strapped around your cargo shorts. The trio of silent weirdos known as Blue Man Group is as annoying as those outdoor escalators that are constantly “under service”. Luxor‘s long-running production returned to the pyramid a few years ago, after more than a decade at Venetian and Monte Carlo. Now they’re in a much smaller venue and it’s easy to forget that they’re still around. Maybe COVID-19 will be the nudge that gets them to squeeze their final Twinkie.

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Human Nature – It really upsets me to have this one on the list, but the Aussie quartet known as Human Nature appears to have been struggling for a while. I’ve been to the show a number of times in the past twelve months, and attendance has been anemic during each and every visit. Their live band has been downsized as a cost-cutting measure and the dancers were given a pink slip before that. They’ve also jettisoned the “Jukebox” format and returned to the Motown sound that put them in the U.S. limelight.

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Magic Mike Live – the movie-inspired male revue received a scathing write-up from me upon its debut (deservedly so). Yet, the man-bashing mess, hosted by a shrill, leather-clad harpy who never shuts her f*cking mouth, somehow managed to become a hit. Still, the closure of Hard Rock Hotel sent the strippers dancers off into the sunset last year.

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Audiences were promised a spring relaunch at the newly-rebranded Sahara Hotel, yet an official debut date was never set and tickets have yet to go on sale. The 360-degree format requires a custom-built arena that Sahara didn’t have, so costly construction was required. Alas, an insider told me that the venue’s build-out was halted many weeks before the shutdown, suggesting that the bump-and-grind may actually be over. Today’s visit to the official website reveals that the word “spring” was removed, most likely due to the shutdown. Or are revised negotiations holding things back?

During the interim, MML has gone global with residencies in London, Berlin, Sydney, and Melbourne, so a pricey Vegas space is no longer a top priority for the franchise. Sahara Hotel has yet to prove itself as a hip destination, as demonstrated by the premature shuttering of similar-themed Blanc de Blanc. Combine that with the perpetual postponements of nearby Fontainebleau/The Drew and Resorts World, and things are looking pretty dead for Magic Mike Live.

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Cirque du Soleil – I know what you’re thinking – “But you just said that “O” was safe?!?!?!?!”. True enough. But in our new reality, Vegas cannot sustain six (already down from eight) of what is basically the same show…especially at $150 and up for decent seats.  MGM Resorts operates five of the six shows and is known to brutally slice away expenses wherever and whenever possible. So who gets their trapezes pulled? I’m looking at KA, The Beatles LOVE, and maybe Michael Jackson ONE.

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Hanging In The Balance/Probably Safe –

MYSTERE – the longest-running Vegas Cirque show follows its own set of rules since Treasure Island operates separately from MGM Resorts. MYSTERE is smaller in scale and has the lowest ticket prices. The others have massive sets, live musicians, huge casts and expensive automation that requires an entire team of technicians to operate and maintain. SO…..overhead…

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ZUMANITY – never a critical darling or fan favorite, but this one might not be in real jeopardy. It has many of the advantages that MYSTERE enjoys (smaller cast, intimate venue, lower ticket prices), and has already trimmed back its musicians and singers. But despite the adult-skewing format, ZUMANITY now pales in comparison to raunchy offerings from Spiegelworld. So once again, your guess is as good as mine.

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Le ReveWynn‘s signature production was never an out-and-out hit (some still believe it’s part of Cirque du Soleil fifteen years in), but it’s a critical darling and those who know it, love it. Le Reve is also owned by Wynn/Encore, which has deep pockets and an image to protect. When Steve Wynn’s own SHOWSTOPPERS was shuttered, massive shockwaves rippled through the entertainment community. That’s unlikely to happen again.

‘WOW: The Las Vegas Spectacular’ Celebrates Two Years on the Strip

WOW: The Vegas Spectacular – another budget-friendly production that hung in there despite the competition, WOW could in fact raise its profile and attendance numbers in the months ahead. Room rates at host hotel RIO start at a ridiculously-cheap $10 (plus resort fees/taxes) for the first half of May, so if the city actually opens, expect a pilgrimage to the aging off-Strip resort.

Sister production EXTRAVAGANZA missed its debut date at Bally’s last month and could possibly be in jeopardy. The cast of performers came from Israel and has yet to log a single hour in front of a paying audience. Housing the entire cast during quarantine is no doubt chipping away at the show’s reserves. Whether that could bring WOW down as well involves legalities that aren’t known to me. But from the outside looking in, it’s a pretty grim picture for EXTRAVAGANZA.

What are your thoughts, predictions and opinions? Feel free to add your comments or email me at Sam@VegasUnfiltered.blog.

Feeling the Love for PALAZZO


Searching for elegance at Bellagio and Wynn but finding it quietly tucked away…

UPDATE 5/19/20 Venetian/Palazzo just announced plans to reopen their resort on June 1st, 2020. Here is their official press release:

The Venetian anticipates that we will be opening our doors to guests beginning Monday, June 1st. With the reopening, we are excited to announce the launch of Share the LOVE, a program to donate 50,000 free nights to essential workers and first responders who have provided crucial services in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

For every night you stay at The Venetian through the Give LOVE offer, the resort will donate a suite night on your behalf to someone who has selflessly given of themselves. The Get LOVE offer provides the opportunity for those first responders and essential workers to receive a complimentary night at our iconic resort. As we open our doors, we can all honor the people who have carried us through this tremendous time.

Click here to learn more and how you can support the “Share The LOVE” program.


 

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8/8/17 – Once upon a time, this writer spent two weeks experiencing the pleasures of three top-tier resorts – Bellagio, Wynn and Palazzo. All are established, respected and great at what they do. Each of them is a 5-star property catering to similar demographics, yet they’re distinct in style and flavor.

Palazzo is the sister property to Venetian. Opened in December of 2007, it’s listed by Wikipedia as the second-largest building in the Western Hemisphere, yet its presence on the Strip is as understated as the clean lines and Earth tones that make up its superstructure.

Inside, two cavernous domes oversee your entrance from either the main lobby or through the waterfall atrium connecting Palazzo to Venetian‘s Grand Canal Shoppes and Restaurant Row. These days the two resorts operate more as a single entity than two separate hotels, but I’ll be focusing on the Palazzo side for this article.

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Both Bellagio and Wynn sprang from the mind of legendary Steve Wynn, so of course they are essentially kindred hotels. Both have ornate decor, colorful seasonal displays, art collections, water-themed production shows created by the same man (Franco Dragone) and outdoor fountains synchronized to familiar musical standards.

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                     Deja-view….                             

For better or worse, Bellagio’s ownership and operations now rest in the hands of MGM Resorts International. That’s the money-grubbing corporation which introduced universally-reviled mandatory resort fees to the Strip, along with parking and valet charges. Their now-notorious profit-growth plan was designed to suck every last dollar out of the consumer’s pocket.

The results are even apparent in a luxury resort such as this, where you pay $12 a day to park while risking damage to your undercarriage. Some have even lost their tires and wheels (check out this mind-bending incident from April 2017), so clearly those extra fees aren’t going towards additional security, which is odd for a casino that has been robbed time and again.

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Wynn/Encore initially resisted resort fees but caved when they became the new normal. I truly expected them to continue offering free parking and valet services, but that is no longer the case. One could argue that all Strip resorts should be on equal footing in respect to their parking arrangements, yet Wynn/Encore is far removed from the core of those affected.

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“Let’s put an ATM next to the garage payment kiosks and see if anyone gets the message”….

There is little to no chance of drivers using Wynn/Encore garages to visit other properties, especially with neighbors like Treasure Island still offering free parking. Installing gates and kiosks reeked of yet another money grab…and an insult to valued guests. They’ve rolled back their policies a bit since charges were instituted, but still…

Fortunately for those of us who rent cars on our trips, the garages at Venetian and Palazzo are well-maintained and free of charge. In the case of Palazzo, conveniently-located escalators and elevators bring guests directly into the lobby, center of the casino or near the showroom. Even when not staying at Palazzo, I frequently dine at wonderful Grand Lux Cafe, in part due to the ease of access (the food, service and free Wi-Fi rock, too).

But, I digress. Let’s delve into the resorts themselves, and why I favor Palazzo over the other two. For me, it all comes down to atmosphere…how I’m treated as a guest and whether I felt comfortable and relaxed in my surroundings.

While Bellagio is the oldest of the three, its rooms remain in tip-top shape and have recently-refreshed decor. Furniture, bedding and fixtures are all lovely, thanks to excellent maintenance. Unfortunately during my three-day stay, the room rumbled throughout the daylight hours until 7 pm with the sound of jackhammers, thanks to renovations above me.

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Bellagio Fountain-View King…          

A complaint to the front desk resulted in a $100.00 food/beverage credit being added to my account. It was willingly offered after my complaint – not something I was soliciting, as I was trying to write and needed to know when the pounding would stop so I could work. Nevertheless, the incessant noise tainted my stay and rattled my teeth loose. It would have been nice if they’d alerted us about construction prior to check-in, but they didn’t.

Noise can also be an issue at Wynn/Encore, especially if you’re hoping for a restful night. With its beach clubs and nightclubs, a constant thump-thump-thump rises up the sides of both towers. It’s a frequent complaint on travel sites for those who are accustomed to the elegance that Wynn initially offered in its early days.

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       Wynn Tower King, Strip View…                

These days, Wynn/Encore has shifted from sophistication to the trendy club scene. It lures in a rowdy crowd that carries on loudly throughout common areas, casinos and elevators, in stark contrast to their expensive, classy surroundings. The effect is very off-putting and a disappointing about-face.

It wasn’t that long ago that trouble-making celebs like Paris Hilton and bad-behavior rappers like Lil Wayne were barred from Wynn/Encore. Now their kind seem to be openly courted. The type that this element attracts make Wynn/Encore the most money…yet are openly mocked by Steve as he collects a hefty share of their trust funds…and their snickers from his supposed sexual-predator history.

           Take care not to collide with a stroller while reading Wynn’s “No Stroller” signs…

Along with “club kids”, the corridors and casinos at Wynn are inexplicably jammed to the max with real children, too. Despite a “No Stroller” policy posted at each and every entrance, there is nothing done to enforce this rule. The dreaded sound of screeching children at all hours of the day and night does nothing to convey the atmosphere of a luxury hotel…unless your idea of opulence is a cuticle trim at the Wal-mart nail spa.

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      An unattended child parties down at Wynn’s “Parasol Up” casino bar…              

Earlier a few years back, the outspoken Mr. Wynn took heat for saying “nobody likes being around poor people”. One would assume, then, that he avoids visiting Bellagio these days. My biggest gripe about that Strip-center showpiece is the massive crowd that continuously flows through the lobby and into the Conservatory and Botanical Garden.

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Bellagio is one of the most expensive and well-regarded hotels in the city…yet the masses choking its heart tend make the lobby resemble a redneck State Fair. Thousands of flip-flops, cargo shorts, pajama bottoms, tank tops and yard-long drinks shuffle beneath a $10,000,000.00 Dale Chihuly ceiling every day, having no idea what it is or why it’s unique.

These everyday gawkers are in stark contrast to the multi-million-dollar surroundings, carrying their bad behavior, lack of manners, beer coolers and overflowing strollers with them. Call me snobby (I prefer the term “outspoken”, which is why this site is a one-man operation) but if I’m staying at a palatial resort, I want to be around a classier group of people.

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Palazzo Luxury King Suite (standard), Golf Course View…  

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            Every Palazzo room is a spacious suite with sunken living quarters and desk…     

That’s why I enjoyed my stay at Palazzo so much. Venetian‘s sister property has the right level of vibe, elegance and excitement to check off every box on my wish list. It has somehow managed to achieve the proper balance between fun and classy…and draws in a pleasant and appreciative crowd…minus the throngs that lug ice chests and beer koozies with them.

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Palazzo‘s porte cochere is absolutely gorgeous, but you wouldn’t really discover it unless you were a guest. Indoor attractions like the massive waterfall and spectacular atrium fountain don’t draw in nearly as many sidewalk gawkers as Bellagio‘s conservatory, either.

Palazzo hasn’t always been devoid of nightclubs, but that clearly isn’t their focus. Lavo continues to operate, but now as a restaurant and lounge. Their nightlife offerings were shuttered after a few years, allowing the focus to shift back to long-running Tao at Venetian.

A short-lived stint of The Act Nightclub on the upper floor of the shopping atrium was deemed too outrageous by the operators of Palazzo, who found nudity and shocking activity to be against the otherwise-conservative nature of the resort. The Sands Corp. forced its closure. The space will be getting a new life this fall when SPIEGELWORLD opens their new ATOMIC SALOON SHOW in September.

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The rowdy Bourbon Room at Venetian was replaced by The Dorsey, an elegant affair featuring unique cocktails by famed Sam Ross in an atmosphere that evokes the sitting room and library of a stately mansion. Somehow the shelves of books and fireplace manage to feel hip without being stuffy, again reflective of that delicate balance that Palazzo and Venetian carry out so well.

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The pool scene at Palazzo is also lively without wallowing in vulgarity, especially at the adults-only Aquatic Club. That day club offered throwback-style, super-cool server costumes and a slick intimate party atmosphere with retro sass. The service is impeccable and Wolfgang Puck makes a pretty mean turkey burger! The format is reportedly being tweaked for the 2019 season, so we’ll put that venue on hold for now.

Just like Cirque du Soleil’s “O” and “Le Reve” reflect Steve Wynn’s fondness for water acrobatics, BAZ – Star Crossed Love represented the style and sensibilities of Palazzo. Hip, classy, bold and unique, the movie-musical mash-up BAZ dazzled the eye and put a song (or thirty) in your heart.

Its attention to details wass rich without smashing you over the head…just like the hotel it called home. Too bad the final performance was July 29th 2018, but hey, it had a great run!

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     BAZ: Star Crossed Love wass sass, class and flash…               

Head clearance is another pleasing element of Palazzo. Both Wynn and Bellagio have very low ceilings throughout their casinos, which accentuate an already crowded atmosphere. The vertical height of Palazzo‘s casino is easily double that of the other properties, offering more natural lighting, fresher air and a spaciousness that compliments the nicely-spread slot machines and table games.

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As for the check-in areas, the less said about Bellagio‘s, the better. While the gardens behind the reservation desk are gorgeous, the lines are chaotic and smack dab in the middle of that human tide of fanny packs. No matter what time of day or night that you arrive, you’ll feel like a silver orb inside a pinball game.

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Wynn‘s check-in area for the original tower (there’s a separate entrance and desk for Encore) underwent its own embarrassing problems. A brand-new arrival area, immediately to the right of the front entrance, lasted about a month before an onslaught of guest complaints (cramped quarters and a sloggy queuing system) shut it down.

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          Guests weren’t the only ones confused by the constantly moving reservation desk…

The backlash prompted a reopening of the original reservation desk and dismantling of the new one during my stay. For a resort that prides itself on impeccable attention to detail, this must have stung! Then again, the Strip-facing entrance to the Encore tower was dismantled mere months after its debut….to be replaced by Encore Beach Club.

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No such problems exist in the elegant and cathedral-like Palazzo reservation counter, which is as glorious as it is spacious. Despite the enormity of the property and its 3,000+ rooms, the check-in center is a model of efficiency…and once again, class.  The same could be said of the staff that I encounter whenever walking through Palazzo. Everyone I speak to is friendly, helpful, and comes across as genuine.

Perhaps that’s why I am writing this article. It’s easy to fall under the spell of gorgeous surroundings, and Bellagio, Wynn and Palazzo are indeed palatial resorts. But once you’ve “been there, done that” with back-to-back stays at each of the Big Three, you begin to notice the differences. You realize that one of those places stood out in ways you never noticed before.

My takeaway is that the deterioration of decorum has rendered the notion of luxury resorts to be rather pointless in most cases. Despite their beginnings as palaces for the more affluent traveler, Bellagio has now devolved into a pseudo Mall of the Americas and Wynn/Encore version 2019 is essentially douche-bag central.

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Thank goodness Palazzo remains everything a five-star resort should be. And it continues to undergo improvements to lighting, decor, casino layout and flow, lounge and dining offerings and more. No amount of glitz and glamour from Wynn’s current or former properties can replace the high-end experience of staying at the big P. It rises above the others by staying true to its purpose…and makes Palazzo my favorite luxury hotel on the Strip.

Photos by Sammasseur, Palazzo via Facebook, TripAdvisor, Expedia

Featured image courtesy Scott and Ryan Lyons

A side note:

There’s a widely-held misconception that critics and bloggers give favorable reviews when the object of their analysis has been comped. That notion is so common that even a former editor suggested that my scathing review of Magic Mike Live stemmed from not being invited to the media premiere (it’s a nauseating stink-fest no matter the circumstances).

As purveyors of our craft, it’s our responsibility to offer truthful opinions. That being said, when we’re invited guests, we’re likely to receive over-the-top service and perks galore. But as professionals, we can sift through the glitter and judge objectively.